The old adage goes "home is where the heart is." For Ohio based artists Over the Rhine, home is where the muse lives, although heart is not something you'll find in short supply on their new double album "Meet Me at the Edge of the World", released 9/3.
Husband and wife duo Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist have been touring the country as Over the Rhine for well over 20 years now and have found lyrical inspiration in all kinds of places. But when it came time to write their new album, they found that none of the miles traveled or places seen inspired them as much as the land surrounding Nowhere Farm, the 1830's brick farmhouse the duo calls home.
Working again with producer Joe Henry, who also produced their 2011 masterpiece "The Long Surrender", the duo recorded the 19 tracks that make up "Meet Me at the Edge of the World" in a feverish 6 days after crowd funding the project through their website. But where their previous collaboration with Henry was a dark folk noir rumination on love, death, and relationships, "Meet Me at the Edge of the World" is as bright as a noontime sky at Nowhere Farm.
Throughout their careers, Over the Rhine has thrived on turning the mundane into the poetic. Like Van Gogh painting sunflowers or Warhol painting soup cans, Detweiler and Bergquist are their most successful when they shine a new light on every day life. With the two primary themes of "Meet Me at the Edge of the World" being love and nature, there's plenty of beautiful simplicity to go around.
"Blue Jean Sky" examines the wonders of a cloudless day on the farm, with Bergquist purring "It's just a faded blue jean sky. Gimme a swig of a little kick ass beauty. All the ghosts are in the trees." On "Favorite Time of Light", the band manages to find new ways to express the beauty of that most cliched of poetic tropes, the sunset. "There's just a lone blue heron flying. Dreaming an ocean in Ohio," the duo harmonizes and it's so vivid you can see the barely visible orange ball of sun silhouetting a heron in flight.
But it is the theme of love that makes "Meet Me at the Edge of the World" so compelling. Whereas "The Long Surrender" treated love as a fragile keepsake at constant risk of breaking, "Meet Me at the Edge of the World" is a understated celebration of the joys to be found in a long time companion.
"Baby if This is Nowhere" is the first of many songs on the album to mix the nature and love messages effectively. Again, Bergquist's stunning voice is put to full effect with lines like "Baby if this is nowhere, how sweet it is to find now that we're finally here, Nowhere suits me fine."
But the true star of the album and the song that should become a live favorite for years to come is the disc 2 opener "All Over Ohio." For the first time, Detweiler steps out front to trade vocals with Bergquist. It's got to be a scary proposition, as Bergquist has one of the best voices in Americana, but it works well. Detweiler doesn't so much sing as perform a rhyming recitation in his distinctive speaking voice. He sounds a bit like a beatnik poet performing in an old speakeasy.
But, novelty of the duo trading vocals aside, "All Over Ohio" provides several of the most beautiful lyrics on the entire album. When Detweiler drawls "I still get the shivers when I hear you singing down the hall," it's such an unflinchingly private line that you know it comes from a very real memory and you can almost picture Detweiler at the kitchen table, pen in hand, listening with a smile to Bergquist's unplanned serenade before writing the line. When Bergquist then repeats the line herself later in the song, it just seals the intimacy of the lyric.
Of course, any good Americana couple knows that the ultimate love story is that of Johnny and June Carter Cash and Over the Rhine play into this with "Earthbound Love" where they declare "Some questions can't be answered. Who's gonna bury who? We need a love like Johnny, Johnny and June."
While we certainly don't want to discourage the always entertaining Over the Rhine from hitting the road, if this is the kind of inspiration that comes from being at home, let's hope they take another good long vacation before recording the next album. "Meet Me at the Edge of the World" is one of the year's strongest Americana albums in a crowded field.